Saint of the Day – 19 February – ST CONRAD OF PIACENZA T.O.S.F – (1290-1351) –
Franciscan tertiary, pilgrim and hermit – Patron of cure of hernias, Cities and Diocese of Noto and Calendasco, Sicily
Born to one of the most noble and wealthy families in the town of Piacenza in Northen Italy, Conrad grew up in a lifestyle marked by privilege and leisure. Among his family and peers, however, he was also noted for deep faith in the Lord, and led a virtuous and God-fearing life. Having married quite young, both he and his wife were recognized for their piety and charity.
The Church of Calendasco with the castle where St. Conrad was born in the background (left)
As was common in noble families at that time, Saint Conrad spent much of his time hunting. During one such outing, he ordered his attendants to scatter some brush and light it on fire in attempts to smoke out some game hiding there. Without warning, a great wind arose, and mercilessly spread the fire beyond that planned, causing severe damage to neighbours’ homes and land. Authorities mistakenly arrested a mendicant friar living in the area and the man was tried and sentenced to death.
Both Conrad and his wife, seeing the injustice and unable to stand their role in it, agreed to confess. As the friar was being led to execution, Saint Conrad made a public confession of the crime. He sold all his possessions, giving them away to those who had lost property. Now desitute, he and his wife separated, Saint Conrad entering a monastery of the Franciscan Order and his wife entering the Orde of Poor Clares.
Saint Conrad spent the remainder of his life in Rome, and then in Sicily, living a life of repentance, penance and austerity. As news of his piety and holiness spread, he received many visitors which forced him to relocate numerous times, preferring the solitude of penitence. He fled to the valley of Noto, Italy, where he lived as a hermit for 36 years. During his hermitude, he lived a life of extreme austerity, sleeping on the bare ground with a stone for pillow and with dry bread and raw herbs for food.
Numerous miracles have been attributed to him while he lived and subsequently at his tomb in Noto, Italy. Holy legend records, for example, that when the Bishop of Syracuse visited him, the he asked Saint Conrad if he had anything to offer guests. Conrad said he would check in his cell and returned moments later carrying newly baked bread and cakes, which the bishop accepted as a miracle. Saint Conrad was also reported to have traveled surrounded by a cloud of fluttering birds, keeping him company.
Conrad is especially invoked for the cure of hernia. This comes from miracles attributed to him. He was visited at his hermitage by a former friend and companion in arms, Antonio da Stessa, from Daverio. His friend was suffering from the pain of a hernia he had developed. Seeing the pain his old comrade was suffering, Conrad was moved to pity and prayed for him. Stessa was immediately cured of the hernia. The same outcome was accomplished for a local tailor, who suffered severely from several hernias.
The miracle for which Conrad is best known is the “Miracle of the Bread”. This developed during the aforementioned famine which afflicted Sicily as a result of a severe outbreak of the bubonic plague on the island during 1348-49. During that catastrophe, anyone who approached the hermit for help was given a loaf of bread, still warm, which, it was said, he had received from the angels.
Conrad died while praying before a crucifix in 1350, surrounded by a bright light, in the presence of his confessor, who was unaware for some time of his death because of his position.
Shortly after Conrad’s death, his demonstrably holy life and the large number of miracles attributed to him led the leadership of the city to request that the Bishop of Syracuse, to which diocese Noto belonged, begin the process for his canonization. When the waiting period required by Church law expired in 1485, this process was opened by Bishop Dalmazio Gabriele, O.P., who had himself witnessed the Miracle of the Bread. As part of the process, Conrad’s body was exhumed for examination and was found to be incorrupt, and placed in a silver urn for the veneration of the public.
Pope Leo X beatified Conrad on 12 July 1515 and permitted the town of Noto to celebrate his feast day. On 30 October 1544, Pope Paul III extended permission to the whole island. On 2 June 1625, he was canonised by Cardinal Odoardo Farnese, who was the Duke of Parma and Piacenza in a solemn ceremony at the cathedral of Piacenza, where it was declared an obligatory feast. On 12 September of that same year, permission was granted to the Franciscan Order by Pope Urban VIII for a distinct text for the Divine Office and Mass to be used for his feast; today it is celebrated solely by the Third Order of St. Francis to which he belonged. In Vietnam there is a popular devotion to Conrad.
On his feast day, the Parish Church of San Corrado in Noto commemorates him by the distribution of blessed bread.